The latest criticism of cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania comes from Colorado, where researchers contended students in K12 Inc. programs are falling behind.
The study, released Wednesday by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, focuses on seven full-time virtual schools in Pennsylvania and four other states using K12.
The schools included Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, which has more than 3,300 students statewide, and Agora Cyber Charter School, which has more than 9,000 students statewide.
While Agora is run in its entirety by K12 Inc., the company said the report incorrectly characterized Pennsylvania Virtual as such when it only contracts for curriculum, not management.
In addition, K12 lists schools in Bald Eagle Area, Bangor Area and the Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit as using its curriculum. It also lists Frontier Virtual Charter High School, which was recently shut down.
On academic performance, the report noted that 27.7 percent of K12 schools in the study met standards for adequate yearly progress, known as AYP, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2010-11.
It said this was nearly identical to other full-time virtual schools operated by private education management organizations but below the estimated 52 percent of public schools as a whole making AYP that year.
For their 2011 results on state math and reading tests, Pennsylvania Virtual and Agora Cyber were in corrective action II first year and corrective action II second year, respectively, for missing AYP targets.
In a statement released by Bryan Flood, senior vice president of public affairs, K12 challenged the test data, saying it didn't show the growth of K12 students as other tests do or fairly reflect the short time some of its students spend in the schools.
The center's report noted that K12 is a temporary placement for some students. K12's own data in April showed 31 percent of parents, upon enrollment submission, planned to have their students in the K12 school for one year or less. Two-thirds of its current students had been attending for less than two years.
Gary Miron, co-author of the report, said one of the problems is that charter schools in Pennsylvania are paid by how many students they enroll, not by how many succeed, as is the case in Florida.
Charter schools are public schools that charge no tuition to students, but receive a fee set by the state from home school districts.
The report states that K12 has several "spending advantages" of more than $4,000 a student, but the K12 response said that the report didn't "cite the unique costs in the virtual model, e.g., costs related to the shipping of computers and material to and from students' homes, costs associated with obtaining physical locations for proctored administration of standardized testing, Internet and phone costs for teachers, and software licenses for web-based classroom tools."
Last month, Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner issued a report criticizing the way charter and cyber charter schools are funded, saying taxpayers could save $365 million a year if the state adopted separate funding formulas for regular charter and cyber charter schools.
Last week, federal agents executed search warrants at Pennsylvania Cyber School offices in Beaver County and several other locations in connection with an unspecified, ongoing investigation. The U.S. attorney's office in Pittsburgh said the cyber school "as an entity, is not a current target of this investigation."
Mr. Miron said that Pennsylvania -- which, with the addition of four more cyber charter schools, will have a total of 16 this fall -- has the highest concentration of such schools in the nation.
Education writer Eleanor Chute: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1955.